Cycling is an enjoyable, challenging and healthy activity. But remaining motivated can be difficult if you experience pain on the bike. Hand pain is a common issue for many cyclists, and compression of the ulnar nerve is even known as Cyclist’s palsy. Such conditions can be caused by several factors such as poor bike fit, incorrect posture, and inadequate bike components. Fortunately, there are ways to prevent hand pain while cycling by following the right bike fitting techniques.
The bike fitting industry has grown significantly in recent years due to its ability to help cyclists find the perfect fit for their bikes. There are bike shops that follow their own guidelines to judge if riders are properly positioned. Physiotherapists are also assisting cyclists, though this can be difficult without knowledge of available components and technologies. Understanding compatibility between components and bike models can be difficult without technical knowledge, such as knowing how an integrated bar like Usus Magnus H.02 Carbon bars will be installed.
Professional bike fitters use specialised tools and techniques and are capable of ensuring components of the bike are properly installed and adjusted so riders can cycle without discomfort or pain. Hand pain is common and is often a sign of other bike fit issues. Unfortunately if left untreated, nerve trauma can become chronic affecting the time a rider will spend on the bike. We believe cycling should never create pain to the extent that a rider considers giving up.
Because our Idmatch bike fitting service and workshop specialises in road bikes, we’re privy to thousands of riders with a history of pains including hand numbness, tingling and aching. When it comes to hand discomfort, there are three top causes.
Rider position is too aggressive - too much weight placed on the front end
Shifters and bar angle is positioned incorrectly
Material of the bar, bar tape and gloves need assessment
Weight at the front
When it comes to an aggressive position it's possible the bike is wrongly sized or the model is incorrect for your ideal ride position. The situation can require you move or replace components, such as your saddle, seat post, bars or stem. Unfortunately, if your flexibility, mobility and strength is unable to retain a comfortable position on the bars, you may need a bike fit, to look for another bike or to work on adapting your body. The areas we see particular discord are hip flexors, glutes, hamstrings, IT Band and lower back which results in weight being distributed forward and onto the handlebars.
When you alter anything on your bike, it will effect other areas of your body. We advise you choose an expert bike fit which involves a fitter with expertise in both your physical treatment and suitable components (including compatibility with your bike), and apparel.
Alternatively you likely need to focus on strengthening muscles like your core, lower back and shoulders to assist posture and stabilisation. These muscles will help you refrain from leaning down on the bars.
Techniques such as bending elbows while on the bike can help while engaging the abs and obliques and stabilising your shoulder and neck. You'll likely want to incorporate strength and conditioning off the bike and we do touch on this in an article Prioritising aerodynamics over comfort: Road Bike performance. Keep in mind that improved aerodynamic positions may require you additionally focus on anchor points of the lower body, such as your glutes and hip flexor mobility.
There are many areas of training that can relieve hand pressure. However, following up with exercises to increase stability may be unrealistic. like buying clothing in the hopes it will motivate better eating habits, we advise avoiding a bike that requires you to overly contort yourself.
Incorrect Cockpit setup
Hyperextension is another problem for cyclists. Are your wrists placed in a neutral position when resting on the shifters? Incorrect shifter angle is particularly common for cyclists unable to comfortably reach the bars and wanting to relieve the pressure of leaning forward.
Ironically by turning the drops upward so the shifters are within better reach, pressure is placed on the wrists. Instead, a shorter stem may be required to pull the bars closer. However, instead of chasing the problem we recommend a bike fit to holistically assess the entire ride position.
Hand pain can also be caused by a particularly stiff frame or uncompromising materials used to finish your cockpit. Carbon bars by manufacturers such as Ursus will help smooth vibrations through the hands. So too will a thicker bar tape, such as Australian Company specialised in manufacturing comfortable and stylish tape, Burgh.
Gloves with padding can help ease riders pain, such as the latest Q36.5 Unique glove that uses a high density perforated foam to improve blood flow and relieve pressure from the ulnar nerve. Tyres and tyre pressure can be discussed at your local bike shop to understand how vibrations can be softened.
In short, hand pain is unnecessary. There are solutions that may be as easy as altering the angle of your bars or wearing better gloves, or as extreme as considering a new bike or upgrading to carbon bars. Unless you seek a professional bike fit, diagnosing isolated problems like hands pain can ignore larger issues and cause further problems in the future.